Campaign finance forms

I’m working on a story about the information in these reports for one of the weekend papers. But here are all the campaign finance forms filed so far.

Because I loaded them in DocumentCloud, they are somewhat searchable. This application, developed with journalists in mind, makes images “readable.” But it’s not a miracle worker. Hand-written information can be a problem.

I look forward to hearing how all our clever readers put the search tool to work.

I checked the Texas Ethics Commission website a few minutes ago for the report from the local PAC, Citizens for Local Governance, but no report appears there yet.

UPDATE MONDAY MORNING: The report function worked on the state’s website this morning. Here is the full report.
CLG PAC CampFinance Report

TREPAC, the political action committee of the Texas Association of Realtors, has donated $4,000 to Greg Johnson’s re-election bid. Another $3,000 was contributed to Joey Hawkins in opposition of his recall. (Hawkins disclosed this on his Facebook page, not on campaign finance forms).

It’s important to note that Sam Ortiz pledged not to raise or spend more than $500, so he is exempt from filing the paperwork. So is Mayor Chris Watts (even though he’s spending money to recall-proof his re-election) because he is officially unopposed.

Analysis of email

Some readers have asked about the analysis of Joey Hawkins’ emails from May to November 2015 reported in my April 19 story, Hawkins responds to recall criticism.
At the latest data journalism conference and training session in Denver, I learned more about DocumentCloud and Overview analysis tools. I used DocumentCloud to turn the stack of emails into readable, searchable documents. (Both these tools have been developed with journalists in mind but have proved useful to other disciplines.)

I used Overview to code and search the emails for some simple analysis.

For example, Overview read all the emails and generated a word cloud that I could use to tag and sort the emails.

Probably the most important sort was the month tag. After that was done, I had to go back into each document to check any that had been tagged more than once. For example, an email sent in June might be setting up a meeting in July. I would delete the “july” tag from such an email to make the month-by sorting as robust as possible.
I also used the search feature to help me quickly read and sort the emails in simple ways, such as the “To: ” and “From: ” lines.
Search - Fr Hawkins
Overview doesn’t have the capabilities of “publishing” your work. But DocumentCloud does. Here are the emails, with a search tool, for your perusal.

City manager recommends Brattle Group for renewable energy study

Last fall, Denton Municipal Electric rolled out an ambitious plan to take advantage of the growing wind energy market in Texas — and perhaps walk away from its partnership in a coal-fired power plant that has provided Denton electricity for 30 years.

The initial plan included a proposal that the city spend about $220 million (that cost estimate has risen in the past six months and will likely rise more) to build two new natural gas-fired power plants. One would be erected west of Denton Enterprise Airport. The other has been proposed for a spot on Shepherd Road in eastern Denton, where a natural gas pipeline and power lines meet.

According to DME officials, those power plants would make it easier for the city to get the best price on contracts for wind and solar energy.

But that has proven to be a hard sell with some residents who would like to see the city move to energy from 100 percent renewable sources. They advocated for the city to hire an independent group to review the gas-plant plan.

City Manger George Campbell has recommended that the City Council hire the Brattle Group to perform the study. He places the international firm above Navigant, which performed a similar analysis for Austin that has been met with skepticism.

The Brattle Group’s website claims expertise with renewable energy and its effects on the electric market. We’ll see how the council reacts on Tuesday night, when the matter comes before them.

Hop to it

Hundreds of kindergarteners rush out during the 5-year-old’s egg hunt at the Denton Easter Eggstravaganza, in 2014, at Quakertown Park in Denton. DRC File art

Pastel colors, bunnies and hunts for brightly colored-eggs might be hard to escape this weekend and next week across Denton County.
Multiple family-friendly events are scheduled for people interested in some Easter fun. So, hop to it!
Breakfast with the Easter Egg Bunny will get underway at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Denton Civic Center. The event is open to children ages 3 to 10 and will include pancakes and a photo with the Easter Bunny.

Get into the Easter spirit with First United Methodist Church Denton’s Eggciting Easter Event from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday.

An Easter egg hunt on the Pilot Point square is being hosted by Pilot Point Main Street and the Pilot Point High School National Honor Society from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday.

First Baptist Church of Denton will host Eggstravaganza, a celebration for infants to second-grade youth with egg hunts and a petting zoo from 4 to 6 p.m. Sunday.

Denia Recreation Center is hosting a Teen Twilight Egg Hunt at sundown Tuesday. Participants will search for eggs with candy, coupons and cash. Don’t forget to bring a flashlight.

Kids rush to grab easter eggs and candy at the Easter Eggstravaganza in Quakertown Park in 2015. DRC File art

The City of Denton is hosting its own Easter Eggstravaganza with face painting, crafts, and egg hunt at other fun beginning at 9:30 p.m. March 26.

Get ready for Rancho De La Roca’s Easter Bunny Picnic March 24-25. Toddler-aged children and others up to age 10 are invited to enjoy hayrides, a story about the true meaning of Easter and games with Mrs. Bunny.

Breakfast With the Bunny, hosted by the Argyle Lions Club, will offer families pancakes, bacon, coffee and a picture made with the Easter Bunny from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. March 26 in the Argyle High School cafeteria. Tickets are $5 per person or $15 per family.

Argyle is gearing up for its third annual community Easter egg hunt at 11 a.m. March 26. Get there early to enjoy breakfast with the Easter Bunny, food trucks, rock climbing and live music.

Police still investigating booster theft

The investigation into the alleged embezzlement of Ponder Fine Arts Booster Club money is still underway, according to police Chief Robert Genova.

Ponder police have no time table for when they anticipate making an arrest or closing the investigation, he said.

“We’re still waiting on some subpoenaed materials,” Genova said. “It’s going well. It’s progressing.”

Genova would not disclose what the subpoenaed materials are that the department is awaiting. He would onlysay that they’re “evidence records” police anticipate arriving soon.

Ponder police began investigating claims of a former band booster allegedly pocketing $20,000 in Ponder Fine Arts Booster Club funds for personal use in January.

Boosters told the Denton Record-Chronicle last month that they learned club money was missing in January when another former booster parent, whose name was still on the organization’s bank account, informed current members of a call received from Bank of the West indicating the group’s bank account was overdrawn and had a $300 deficit. Around the same time, creditors began mailing notices to band officials for unpaid apparel, band patches and video expenses.

The club intended to use the money for future out-of-town band performance trips.

Last month, James Wood dealerships in Denton and Decatur surprised the club with donations totaling $20,000.

Sheltering from a storm? Grab your bicycle helmets

On a recent Insight, we answered the question of what to do when you hear a tornado siren.

A reader sent in a helpful suggestion if you find yourself sheltering from a tornado or hailstorm:

Most advisories are similar in suggesting deep interior room safety in the absence of an underground shelter. Often, the advice includes gathering in a bathtub using a mattress to protect against falling debris. Head injuries are very prominent in the injuries from storms.

A simple, low-cost protection from head injuries for all members of families caught in such situations is a bicycle helmet.
They are inexpensive and available for all sizes in a family. Bicycle helmets are in many homes for outdoor sports and should be a part of any emergency shelter preparation kit.

From the way-back machine (or, more on criminalizing speech)

If you haven’t read the story about Denton’s 10-year-old ordinance that could make criminals of City Council members who talk about City Hall secrets, you can catch up here.

I asked the city secretary to find for me the minutes of the May 2006 meeting and the original copy of the ordinance signed by then-mayor Euline Brock on May 16, 2006.

I’ve attached the documents below. You will note there is little discussion recorded in the minutes, other than the council unanimously approving an ordinance that was ostensibly recommended by the city’s ethics committee. Interestingly, the item was presented by former city attorney Ed Snyder.


May 16, 2006 Minutes

Did he or didn’t he?

I’ve had more than one reader ask me to check out whether Texas oil and gas powerhouse attorney Shannon Ratliff wrote House Bill 40.

I put that task on my to-do list for this Sunday’s piece, a thorough question-and-answer on HB 40. Reaction from various attorneys and others who watch challenges to municipal authority call HB 40 everything from legislative overreach and a really bad law, to a reasonable compromise.

If you replay the testimony from the March 23 House Energy Resources Committee, about an hour in (the entire bill’s history is here), Ratliff is on the panel and fielding many questions from state representatives about the bill. It’s not hard to see why some people would come to the conclusion that Ratliff wrote the bill.

Ratliff: The fact of the matter is, we attempted in this bill, to connect it with a well established principal in oil & gas law and that is the reasonable and prudent operator rule.

Ratliff: What we’ve tried to do, is put some standards in place to deal with the general statement about it’s health, safety and welfare. And what we’ve done there, is we’ve taken activities that cities have typically engaged in such as setbacks for all kinds of activities …

Rep. Tom Craddick (to Ratliff): What about the legal aspect in this, the lawsuits? I mean, obviously no one seems to know—you may know because you wrote it—but no one seems to know what commercially reasonable is…

The two then share a joke about how the new definition of “commercially reasonable” would put attorneys in great demand. (Yet another descriptor I’ve read for HB 40, an attorney’s right-to-work bill.)

Loyal readers of Texas Monthly may remember a 2009 piece by Mimi Schwarz that detailed a long and storied battle between ExxonMobil and the prominent O’Connor family of South Texas.

It was in that story we learned of Ratliff’s impeccable credentials as an attorney and as one of the state’s power brokers; how his success before the Texas Supreme Court earned him the nickname “the Dark Knight of Oil and Gas law.”

I called him and asked him today if he wrote HB 40. He acknowledged the joke from the hearing, but denied writing HB 40.

Ratliff said State Rep. Drew Darby wrote it.